This is September 21, traditionally celebrated as Mabon or the Autumn Equinox and one of the three observances dedicated to the harvest, the other two being Lughnasadh (or Lammas) which fell on August 1 and Samhain (or Halloween) which will follow in a few weeks time on October 31. This year, the precise astronomical date of the Equinox is tomorrow, Sunday, September 22, but many of us observe it on September 21, and so here I am this morning, waxing thoughtful about a cosmic event that celebrates natural equilibrium, harvest and community.
Today goes by many names: Harvest Home, Mabon, the Feast of Ingathering, Equinozio di Autunno (Strega), Meán Fómhair, and in Druidic tradition, Alban Elfed, to name just a few. Mabon is the name by which Autumn Equinox ritual observances are most widely known, but the connection between the Welsh hunter god and September 21 is flimsy to say the least - Mabon's only likely link with the Autumn Equinox is that it may have been the date of his birth, but we don't know for sure. Lugh, Demeter, Ceres, Persephone or even John Barleycorn might have been better choices for a deity presiding over autumn equinox rites. South of the equator seasonal patterns are reversed (of course), and this day is celebrated as Ostara or the Spring Equinox.
In the old Teutonic calendar, the Autumn Equinox marked the beginning of the Winter Finding, a ceremonial interval lasting until Winter Night on October 15, and it was also the date of the old Norse New Year. In Christian tradition, the festival is closely associated with St. Michael the Archangel - his feast takes place a few days from now on September 25 and is known for obvious reasons as Michaelmas. The purple Michaelmas Daisy with its golden heart is one of my favorite flowers ever. Today is about abundance and harvest, but most of all, it is about balance - this is one of only two days in the whole turning year when day and night are perfectly balanced in length. Like all the old festivals dedicated to Mother Earth, this is a liminal or threshold time, and we are poised between two seasons, summer and autumn.
A ballad by Bob Dylan always comes to mind around this time of the year: "The Times They Are a-Changin". The song was written for Dylan's third studio album in 1963, and it was an inchoate expression of the tumult of the times, especially the civil rights movement - it came only a few weeks before John Fitzgerald Kennedy's tragic assassination. Dylan's lyrics were inspired by the Book of Ecclesiastes, and he tucked in a reference to Mark 10:31: "But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first." Music critics of the era claimed that Dylan's creation was passé even before it was published, but his words have always seemed timeless to me - as appropriate for present day seasonal turnings as they were for the turbulent social and political movements of the sixties. Dylan's old friend Pete Seeger later adapted passages from Ecclesiastes to write his own folk anthem "Turn, Turn, Turn" (recorded by the Byrds).
One holds out hopeful thoughts on the Autumn Equinox - that skies overhead will be brilliantly blue and full of singing geese, that trees and vines and creepers will be arrayed in ruby, russet and gold, that a splendid yellow moon will be visible when darkness falls. As always, there is a bronze chrysanthemum in a cauldron blooming on our threshold this morning, and sometimes the flowers are graced by fallen leaves from the old oak watching over the little blue house in the village. The oak and its companions are our guardian trees, and the "mum" is our personal nod to the season, a homage of sorts. Together, trees, fallen leaves and flowers convey a benediction to everyone who knocks at our door, treads our cobblestones or passes by in the street.
On this day of color and richness and equilibrium, we can be still for a moment and acknowledge our bond with the place where we have been planted this time around. We can offer up thanks for home and hearth, the bounty we are harvesting and "putting by" to see us through the long winter nights. We can celebrate clan, tribe, community and sharing - all the fine old qualities that unite us in a dancing train spiraling on down the years, from the ancestors to the present day and our tattered motley selves.
Whatever you call it and however you choose to celebrate it (or not celebrate it), a very happy Autumn Equinox, Harvest Home, Mabon, Feast of Ingathering, Equinozio di Autunno, Meán Fómhair and Alban Elfed to you and your clan.